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Patients with chronic pain hit hard by coronavirus

To those afflicted with chronic pain, any disruption in care can be particularly difficult.

Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States, hospitals and clinics, including those at UW Health, were forced make major changes to inperson care. For many patients who need surgical pain treatment or in-person therapy, it meant battling pain alone away from the clinic.

Incidence of pain increased significantly due to changes related to COVID-19 and stress related to the pandemic. Calls for pain treatment to the UW Health Pain Management Clinic increased 50 to 70% during the early months of pandemic response.

“While patient consultations continued via telehealth, those with non-emergency pain had to manage with alternatives like over-the counter medications, adjustments to current medication, or seeking prescriptions for potentially addictive opioid medications,” said Dr. Alaa Abd-Elsayed , medical director of the UW Health Pain Management Clinic, and assistant professor of anesthesiology at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

Untreated pain can cause anxiety, depression, loss of sleep, inability to work and diminished quality of life, according to a recent paper co-authored by Abd-Elsayed, in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia.

“We feared the worst for our patients during the pandemic,” he said. “But, now that our clinic is up and running again, we can resume the work, fully, of helping them relieve this traumatic pain.”

Pain is often cause by underlying conditions, and a delay in care can have dangerous consequences, making it doubly difficult for chronic pain patients, Abd-Elsayed said.

“We are open and implore our patients to come in and be treated,” he said. “Waiting will only prolong the suffering and accelerate other conditions that may be causing some of this pain.”